My New Armor

4 min
Image of Fall 2020
Image of Creative Nonfiction
We may not all don crowns on our heads, but we all clothe ourselves in underwear. Underwear, I would argue, grants one as much power as—if not more power than—the jewel-encased headgear worn by monarchs. Shielding the wearer within, underwear acts as a defensive armor. It serves to protect, but different types of underwear protect different kinds of people. Boyshorts suit athletic girls, thongs empower alpha females, bikinis let comfort seekers breathe, and G-strings are for whomever embodies Miley Cyrus as her spirit animal. For some, underwear is worn as outerwear—a celebrity fashion trend slowly taking hold as a statement of sexual liberation. For others, different moods determine which panty is drawn from the drawer. Our sexiest, laciest, favorite pair of underwear—or better yet, a matching set of a panty and a bra—can often elicit the same sense of power and authority that a crown can.

For me, panties were an article of clothing that not only had the power to make me feel confident but also brought me a sense of comfort. My nighttime attire usually consisted of an oversized T-shirt and a pair of underwear. The freeing feeling of my sheets grazing against my bare skin was always relaxing. At least for a period of time it was.

Things changed when I woke up one night to a man inside of me. My Tiffany-blue-colored thong was slipped to the side as he penetrated me. Immediately and instinctively, I felt a soiled feeling of disgust and a desire to flee. In that moment, I physically removed my body and rushed into the bathroom. My headache reminded me that I had blacked out the night before. Snippets from my night replayed in my head. I recalled taking shots at our table, leaving the club, and then fast-forward to my last scene of memory: I was sitting in the shower, hugging my knees, and vomiting. It was so vivid that the stench of my stomach acid came creeping back. But whatever happened after I threw up, I did not know.

Still absent-minded, I took a deep breath and an uncomfortable swallow and recoiled back into bed.

Though the man sleeping next to me had just violated any and every bit of bodily integrity that I had, he was no stranger. In fact, he was quite the opposite. I had flown hundreds of miles to visit him because he was my close friend. Our friendship was fun and adventurous. We went to music festivals together, travelled across the Atlantic Ocean together, and nearly died in a car together.

At the time, I didn’t foresee anything that could have broken the trust we built over the years.

When the morning after came around, we woke up, and he seemed confused. He claimed that he, too, had blacked out and indicated that he did not know how we ended up in this situation. But he was quick to dismiss the incident with an unpalatable joke and moved on with his day.

I so badly wanted to further discuss the situation with him, but I was tongue-tied and unable to express my thoughts coherently. However, seeing that the incident held little weight to him, I tried to convince myself to minimize the magnitude of what just happened. Thoughts clouded my mind: He was my close friend. He would have never intentionally tried to hurt me...right? If we were both blacked out, how will we ever know the truth? With no evidence nor witness, how can I be justified in saying he assaulted me? Maybe it was my fault. I should have worn pants to sleep. I should have drank less. What if I accidentally gave him the wrong signals? How is rape even defined when alcohol is involved?

At the time, I did not realize that my mindset exemplified all that rape culture encourages us to believe—the victim-blaming narratives were so potently ingrained in our society that I bought into them. I found it difficult to assign the word rape to this incident because he was not a stranger. He was not forceful. He did not lure me to an alleyway behind a dumpster. I thought I was being considerate and objective by shifting the blame to myself. I felt the need to be polite about my trauma. I took the blame for him so that he wouldn’t have to. I wrongfully thought my circumstances did not tick all the checkboxes of assault. I failed to realize that I had an imperfect victim narrative, but a victim narrative nonetheless.

Months after the incident, there was a large influx of sexual assault survivors who stepped forward and shared their stories on Twitter. One act of bravery led to another which led to another. Like ripples in a pond, survivor after survivor let their voices be heard in a world that normally silenced them.

At the time, I decided against taking my story public. I felt the need to keep this secret for him. However, the uproar on Twitter encouraged me to reach out to my perpetrator individually. Because of the close friendship we had had, I hoped that a conversation would possess some level of intimacy and transparency that would lead to accountability.

Nearly four months after the incident, I spoke to him for the first time.

Though civil, our conversation left me with a measure of unease that I did not expect. During the call, he had revealed information that was previously unknown to me. He had remembered more parts of the night than he originally let on. Namely, he confessed to taking a pill similar to Viagra.

It was unsettling to hear that he was actually conscious when I was not, but even worse, I wondered if his actions might have been premeditated. Had it not been for this conversation, I am not sure that I would have stopped blaming myself. This newfound evidence pushed me to realize that I let our friendship cloud my judgment. It finally dawned on me that I needed a reason to stop making excuses on his behalf because I was, in fact, raped.

I now step into my underwear a different person from who I was before. Where I previously found physical comfort and confidence, I now have flashbacks and anxiety when wearing something that seemingly sealed an invitation for unwanted sex. Though my underwear no longer serves as a suit of armor, I am now armed with my voice. Many nights I’ve reveled in thoughts that fuel the victim-blaming narrative, but I know that by speaking up, my open wounds are healing and slowly becoming scars.

I write not to be remembered for my name nor story but rather to encourage those who might be hesitant to take a stand against sexual assault. I share my story to remind others that rape and sexual assault are often crimes that are not defined or even realized until after the fact. It may take some survivors a few minutes to grasp the gravity of the assault, but for others, it may take years. Regardless of where one lies on this spectrum, the victim’s experience does not expire.

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